Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The loneliness of the long-distance birder

Living 90-miles from my beloved Dungeness means that I cannot really treat it as 'my patch'. True, I could get up at cuckoo's fart each morning and arrive for a dawn start, but that is not a realistic option on many levels. The drive to Dungeness can be painful due to heavy traffic on the M25, 26, 20 and increasingly at the point itself. I struggle to recall the days when a bank holiday weekend meant no more than an extra ten minutes on the journey and a couple more people staring at the lighthouses. Today you might as well resign yourself to forging a close relationship with the flora of the motorway central reservations and hard shoulders as you crawl along to the fumes of trucks heading to (and from) Dover. And, according to the sensible people, Brexit will only make this scenario worse.

Where else to get my 'proper' birding fix? Rye Harbour is a great reserve, a pleasant drive (via the A21 and Hawkhurst) but is still a 90-minute drive if all of the traffic and roads are behaving themselves. Pagham Harbour? An old stomping ground of mine but increasingly blighted by traffic hold ups near Chichester and down to Selsey, and further in miles and time than Rye. Closer to home is Pulborough Brooks, the closest to an inland sea you will get away from the man-made concrete monstrosity of Staines Reservoir - and don't even suggest that I ought to throw in my lot with that place! Admittedly I have seen some good birds there, but it is like birding at a flooded multi-storey car park. No, not for me, and no, it's not in f***ing Surrey. Pulborough is more of an option but, in reality is 'coastal-lite', decaffinated birding with the sugar and salt removed. But still full-fat compared to where I do end up.

So I plough a (virtually) lonely furrow here on the North Downs scarp. It has its moments, but not as many as I'd like. What would be great is to walk out with a realistic chance of bumping into a Rose-coloured Starling. Or finding a singing Marsh Warbler. Not scraping by on a diet of Wheatears, Whinchats and the outside chance of a Spotted Flycatcher. So I check Twitter, reading about the exploits of those I follow primarily in Kent and Sussex. Through gritted teeth I feel pleased for them as Great Reed Warblers, Pallid Harriers and memorable sea watches are relayed to me via 140 or 280 characters. It can galvanise me into getting out in an attempt to join in with the party. At other times it is nothing but crushing. It could be worse, but I'm starting to struggle to think of a more disadvantaged part of the country to bird in.

Answers on a postcard...

8 comments:

Tom Smith said...

Well, I live in Peckham...

Steve Gale said...

OK Tom, you might just win...

David Campbell said...

Finding passerine migrants has been just as mind-numbing a task here on my stretch of the coast, Steve. In fact, in that respect it has felt considerably less rewarding than Canons. I'm clutching to the explanation that it's been a dire spring with little low cloud/correct wind and that it will surely come into its own in the autumn...

Steve Gale said...

You are right David, your unrewarded expectations will be harder to swallow, but it is also true that you can carry on searching knowing that it WILL all come good with time. I await your first notable Goring find with a certainty that it will happen soon!

Ed said...

I feel your pain Steve. It's been a truly dire spring for us dry, Surrey-ites. I've certainly been lacking in inspiration these past few weeks...just have to keep at it, for the moment will come (even if it's just a Whinchat, it'll feel good!)!

Steve Gale said...

Ed, maybe we can start up a mutual support group!!

Paul Trodd said...

I lived in Bedfordshire for almost 30 years Steve, so can empathise with what you`re going through; but at least for much of that period there was no social media to speak of relaying instant news from the coast. You`ll just have to come back for another shingle fix! See you soon.

Steve Gale said...

Social media has a lot to answer for Paul, that's for sure!